Radical Orthodoxy: The Last Gateway Out of Funda-gelicalism (For me)

In two prior posts I noted the two “gateway” influences that helped take me out of the Funda-gelical (FG) world, which were Reformed theology and postmodernism.  As noted before, this is what they did for me.  What they might do for someone else, I can’t say.  I do believe however that anyone taking either seriously, and understanding them honestly, would have a very difficult time remaining in the FG world, if such is the current world they inhabit.

There was a third and final influence for me however, something called “Radical Orthodoxy.”  All three together, closed the door as to me ever inhabiting the FG narrative again.

For a very cursory definition of Radical Orthodoxy (RO) see here.  As noted this is a movement from the late 90’s coming out of England and the Anglican tradition.  The three architects were/are John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward.  For a good introduction to RO, see Peter Leithart’s (A student of Milbank’s) very good take here.

I don’t even remember how exactly I was made aware of the book, but I first read John Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory” (See here), which caused my head to explode.  I will never forget that first line: “Once, there was no secular…”  And he goes on to note that it wasn’t a reality, always present, waiting for the decline of religion so it could finally be realized.  No, it had to be imagined.  It was a counter story, a counter narrative or myth and also, at bottom, theological.  It simply masquerades as something neutral, something scientific or “fact” based.

The book is written for academics and challenging for sure; it presumes one already has some theological, philosophical, and sociological knowledge or familiarity.  Still, it is worth taking the time, and struggling with its many corridors and facets—so what if I had to pause innumerable times to check a term, historical person, or theory/thought referenced.  I learned quite a bit in the process.

I then went on to read Catherine Pickstock’s “After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy.” (See here) Another challenging read, but worth it.  Even if one disagrees with Milbank, Pickstock, et al., they will be challenged and made to think about many things probably just assumed.

I’m sure some readers are already familiar with RO, but if not, and interested, I have the perfect resource.  I’m going to save you a lot of time and a lot of extra work just not having to look up all the stuff referenced in the two books noted above.  As noted in my post regarding Reformed theology, a very influential theologian in my journey was James K.A. Smith.  I would strongly suggest that anyone from an evangelical background and interested in RO read “Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology” by Smith (See here).

While still very rigorous and academic, he definitely writes with a view toward a wider audience.  He lays our clearly the lines, emphasis, and main features of RO in such a way that any reader will come away with a very good grasp of the project.

Those three gateways, influences, directions, led me out of the FG world.  I would like to think the Holy Spirit was using them, along with many other influences and factors, to lead me out of a toxic world.

I should also say this.  God is at work even in that world.  We should remember that even if the foundation, the edifice, of the FG world is damaged and broken, many of us did in fact encounter God, Jesus, the Trinity, and a basic understanding of the Christian narrative in that world.  As noted in the liturgy and prayers of the ancient Church: “O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who is in all places and fills all things…”

I sort of think about it in terms of being born to a mother who was an alcoholic.  She was damaged, we were damaged, but she did give us life, fed us, and tried to take care of us, even if it wasn’t always in the best or most healthy way.  We loved her and hated her all at the same time.  That probably sums up my view of the FG world.

When we get to that place however where the damage and brokenness becomes evident, in us, and in others, is when we have a decision to make.  Will we stay or will we go.  I had to go.